Legislature(2003 - 2004)

05/08/2003 03:35 PM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
         SB 198-DAMAGES RECOVERED BY POLICE/FIREFIGHTER                                                                     
BRIAN HOVE, staff to Senator Ralph Seekins, read the sponsor                                                                    
statement into the record:                                                                                                      
     SB   198   revises  the   common   law  known   as   the                                                                   
     Firefighter's  Rule.  This rule  precludes  firefighters                                                                   
     and  peace officers  from recovering  civil damages  for                                                                   
     injuries caused by any negligent  act inflicted while on                                                                   
     duty.  The   Firefighters  Rule  does   not  distinguish                                                                   
     between  negligent acts  requiring  the firefighters  or                                                                   
     peace officer's  response from  negligent acts  that are                                                                   
     unrelated  to  the  reason   the  firefighter  or  peace                                                                   
     officer was required to respond.                                                                                           
     For  example, as  currently  employed, the  Firefighters                                                                   
     Rule precludes  a police officer from suing  for damages                                                                   
     for injuries suffered  as a result of being  struck by a                                                                   
     drunk  driver  during  the   course  of  transporting  a                                                                   
     prisoner to  the courthouse. This despite the  fact that                                                                   
     the negligent  act, in this case, the drunk  driving, is                                                                   
     unrelated to the duty the officer  was performing at the                                                                   
     time.  SB 198  corrects this  incongruity.  Yet, on  the                                                                   
     other hand,  this bill does  nothing to change  the case                                                                   
     where the  police officer is  injured during  the course                                                                   
     of a pursuit  of the drunk driver. This is  considered a                                                                   
     foreseeable  risk associated  with  the profession  and,                                                                   
     accordingly,  well within that  which the  Firefighter's                                                                   
     Rule should cover.                                                                                                         
     Therefore,   SB   198  makes   a   distinction   between                                                                   
     negligence   that   is  related   to   the  reason   the                                                                   
     firefighter   or  peace   officer   is  responding   and                                                                   
     negligence   that  is  unrelated   to  the  reason   the                                                                   
     firefighter  or  peace  officer is  responding.  In  the                                                                   
     first  instance,  it  does not  allow  a  civil  action.                                                                   
     Instead the  firefighter or  peace officer must  rely on                                                                   
     the  state's workers  compensation  system. However,  in                                                                   
     the case where injury was caused  by a negligent act not                                                                   
     related  to  the reason  for  the firefighter  or  peace                                                                   
     officer's response,  then -  under this legislation  - a                                                                   
     civil action can be brought  against the at-fault party.                                                                   
SENATOR JOHN COWDERY asked how many people might be affected by                                                                 
this legislation and what other states have done in this regard.                                                                
MR. HOVE didn't have that information.                                                                                          
SENATOR   GRETCHEN  GUESS   asked  whether   the  bill  would   be                                                              
MR. HOVE replied they had not discussed effective dates.                                                                        
SENATOR FRED  DYSON asked who  the personal representative  is for                                                              
peace officers.                                                                                                                 
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS asked Mike Couturier  to join Mr. Hove  at the                                                              
MIKE  COUTURIER, an  Anchorage Patrol  Officer, expressed  support                                                              
for SB 198. He said officers accept  the inherent risks associated                                                              
with  their  profession,  but  need  recourse  for  accidents  and                                                              
injuries that  are unrelated  to the job  they are performing.  He                                                              
told a  story about an  officer that  was critically injured  by a                                                              
drunk driver  while enroute  to a call.  Because of the  Fireman's                                                              
Rule, he  was unable to  recover damages  incurred as a  result of                                                              
that traffic  accident. Peace officers and  firefighters shouldn't                                                              
have to give  up their rights  as citizens when they  are working.                                                              
These  are infrequent  occurrences  and would  not  cause a  large                                                              
increase in  litigation across  the state;  the bill would  simply                                                              
take care of the exceptions.                                                                                                    
SENATOR GUESS asked the committee to entertain two points:                                                                      
   · Whether the bill should be retroactive to 2000                                                                             
   · That the effective date should be immediate                                                                                
SENATOR  JOHN COWDERY  commented that  glitches in  law should  be                                                              
CHAIR GARY STEVENS  asked whether insurance coverage  entered into                                                              
the discussion.                                                                                                                 
MR.  COUTURIER  advised  it  did   to  a  certain  extent  because                                                              
taxpayers are paying for acts of neglect.                                                                                       
MIKE FOX,  retired state trooper  and employee of a  Public Safety                                                              
Employee Association, testified in support of the bill.                                                                         
WILL  AITCHISON,  attorney  for  the  Anchorage  Police  Employees                                                              
Association, testified  via teleconference  in support of  SB 198.                                                              
The Fireman's Rule  stems from old rules regarding  liability when                                                              
someone  is doing business  on your  property.  It evolved  to the                                                              
point  that  police officers  and  firefighters  had no  right  to                                                              
recover from a negligent third party when injured on the job.                                                                   
A number  of state  legislatures have  statutorily repealed  court                                                              
decisions that  adopted this type of  rule on the theory  that the                                                              
negligent wrongdoer,  not the  public, should bear  responsibility                                                              
for their conduct.                                                                                                              
The  Firefighters  Rule  was  adopted  in  a  case  involving  the                                                              
Dillingham chief  of police, but  the Alaska Supreme  Court didn't                                                              
define the  confines of  the rule  and there  are several.  SB 198                                                              
adopts the Firefighters Rule statutorily,  but makes a distinction                                                              
between negligence  that is related to the reason  the firefighter                                                              
or peace  officer is responding  and negligence that  is unrelated                                                              
to the reason they are responding.                                                                                              
In response  to Senator  Cowdery's question,  he said these  cases                                                              
have been  infrequent in  Alaska. With  regard to Senator  Dyson's                                                              
question,  he said  the personal  representative  refers to  peace                                                              
officers and  firefighters who have died  in the line of  duty and                                                              
in those cases  the personal representative would  be the executor                                                              
of the estate.                                                                                                                  
CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked him to comment  on the effective date and                                                              
whether it should be retroactive to 2000.                                                                                       
MR. AITCHISON said the bill is written  to be effective on July 1,                                                              
but he doesn't see  why it should be then. Also,  the way he reads                                                              
the bill it would be retroactive to an existing claim.                                                                          
SENATOR COWDERY asked  if the state would assume  additional costs                                                              
with this change.                                                                                                               
MR.  AITCHISON opined  there  would  be a  cost  reduction to  the                                                              
CHAIR GARY STEVENS  pointed out that page 2, line  5 makes the law                                                              
applicable on or after the effective date of the act.                                                                           
SENATOR COWDERY asked what is typical in other states.                                                                          
MR. AITCHISON thought this was the  most common form. Other states                                                              
are split. Some  have a more intensive rule and some  have no rule                                                              
SENATOR  DYSON  asked  if  the  bill  would  allow  for  just  the                                                              
negligent party to be sued and not a deep pocket.                                                                               
MR. AITCHISON replied the bill only  allows lawsuits against those                                                              
who are negligent and only where  the negligence is independent of                                                              
the reason that the officer or firefighter is responding.                                                                       
SENATOR DYSON  asked for verification  that SB 198  wouldn't allow                                                              
an injured  officer or  firefighter to  collect twice for  medical                                                              
bills or lost wages.                                                                                                            
MR. AITCHISON  said there would be  an obligation to pay  back the                                                              
state or whoever paid the medical bills.                                                                                        
SENATOR DYSON  asked if  pain and suffering,  payment for  loss of                                                              
future  earnings and  punitive damages  would go  directly to  the                                                              
injured worker.                                                                                                                 
MR. AITCHISON replied they would.                                                                                               
SENATOR  DYSON   asked  how  to   modify  the  bill  to   make  it                                                              
MR. AITCHISON replied you would remove the applicability clause.                                                                
SENATOR GUESS stated  she would like to remove Sec.  2 and make it                                                              
effective immediately.                                                                                                          
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS asked  the sponsor's staff  to respond  to the                                                              
proposed change.                                                                                                                
MR. HOVE said he had no problem with the change.                                                                                
SENATOR LYMAN HOFFMAN commented [indiscernible}.                                                                                
MITCH  GRAVO,  attorney  and lobbyist  for  the  Anchorage  Police                                                              
Department  Employees Association,  testified  they would  support                                                              
the amendment.                                                                                                                  
SENATOR GUESS  made a motion to amend  the bill to remove  Sec. 2,                                                              
lines 3-6 on  page 2 and make  a new Sec. 2 to make  the effective                                                              
date immediate.                                                                                                                 
CHAIR  GARY  STEVENS  called  for  a roll  call  on  Amendment  1.                                                              
Senators  Hoffman, Cowdery,  Dyson, Guess  and Chair Gary  Stevens                                                              
voted yea. Amendment 1 passed unopposed.                                                                                        
SENATOR DYSON  made a  motion to move  CSSB 198(STA)  and attached                                                              
fiscal note from committee with individual  recommendations. There                                                              
being no objection, it was so ordered.                                                                                          

Document Name Date/Time Subjects